2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Trans-Siberian railway through Russia. The world’s longest railway, the Trans-Siberian runs across Russia over 7 different time zones connecting east and west from Moscow over the Urals, across the steppe and alongside the shore of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest ice-free freshwater lake by volume and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Trans-Siberian main route stretches from Moscow to Vladivostok in the east along with few additional routes. One of them is the Trans-Mongolian Line running between Ulan-Ude at Lake Baikal’s eastern shore and China’s capital Beijing. From Ulan-Ude the tracks go south, towards Mongolia, crossing the Gobi Desert and ending up in Beijing. The second additional route, the Trans-Manchurian Line coincides with the Trans-Siberian as far as Tarskaya, which is a few hundred miles east of Lake Baikal. From Tarskaya, the line goes southeast into China near Zabaikalsk and continues to Beijing. The newest additional route, the Baikal Amur Magistrale (BAM), starts in Taishet and stretches to the Pacific Ocean northeast of Khabarovsk, at Sovetskaya Galan.
The initiative to build the Trans-Siberian railway seems to have originated in the need to manage Russia’s size from an economic and developmental point of view, to unite the rich yields of Siberian nature with the network of Russian railways; however, as the project evolved, it incorporated a touristic element since the rail crosses iconic landmarks such as the vast Russian taiga, large rivers running through Siberia, many lakes, and districts.
The train aims to offer an array of cabin types, each with its own style, catering for different budgets. The train has scheduled stops every few hours and travellers may find people selling homemade meals at the platform (dried noodles, fresh or salted fish, dried cakes such as Suckaris and sausage colbasa). For tourists, it may be part of the experience to taste specialties from every region. Babushkas living in cities along the train’s line may be seen selling fresh food, such as Pirozhki, cakes filled in with cottage cheese, meat, vegetables, or fish, before each halt.
To enjoy longer hours of daylight and the chance of dry weather, tourists may plan a trip between May and September, though the ticket cost may be more affordable in the winter. Travellers may opt for a hop-on hop-off option with overnight stays in hotels in cities like Vladivostok, Irkutsk where visitors may see the city’s churches and museums, streets of log cabins and the preserved English-built steamship Angara, Kazan and Yekaterinburg. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, which operates a variety of itineraries each year, offers a hotel-train travel option to those aiming for a direct trip.
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who occasionally travels to the Eastern countries using the Trans-Siberian in preference to flying, has announced during the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok in September 2015 significant investments in infrastructure developments. According to the Russian president, the country is planning to invest approximately 500 billion rubles by 2017 on the modernisation and expansion of the Trans-Siberian and the Baikal-Amur railways.
A vehicle for communication between Europe and Asia, the Trans-Siberian railway appears to show an innovative impact on economic and travel development in the region by contributing to the acceleration and growth of the circulation of goods and people. In the light of the Russian’s government plans to optimise the railway’s capacity, the future of the Trans-Siberian railroad may seem bright.
How may Russia boost the prestige of the Trans Siberian Express in the modern era?